Grassroots Journalism and the Nature of the Media Conglomerate

If open source is better than capitalism at creating software (even the US govenment says so) and software and journalism have a lot in common which seems to be the case then Yochai Benkler's arguments(pdf) in favor of the economics of open source should also apply to the econmics of grassroots vs. mainstream journalism.

So with that in mind what conclusions can be drawn from Benkler's essay? I'm working on pulling and modifying some choice quotes. Post might slow down this coming week, the un-official craziest week of my life.

EDIT: Three beers later Kirk returned to his laptop; determined to draw some charcoal conclusions. So there are ideas that matter and then there are ideas that matter that nobody wants to think about. The latter category includes things like the singularity. It would be a world changing event and most rational thinkers agree that it is eventually inevitable but there is nothing to write about. It is chaos theory squashed into an hour and a half. I added some names to my link column on the right but I just don't have time to link to their sites.

I just got the OK to go to the Emerging Technology Conference and my employer is footing the bill. That I get to meet the people that I really believe are going to change the world (for the better) is something I find hard to belive. I wish I could plug my employer but people get fired for their blogs and I'd prefer to avoid that, needless to say not all Fortune 500 companies are evil.

I left a comment on one of my favourite websites and received an interesting response. I asked "How can France, Germany, etc. not understand that high taxes are bad for growth? It really isn't very complicated. Do they refuse free markets because they just hate America and are willing to suffer as long as they don't have to admit we might be on to something?"

And the reply, which I probably should have realized:
"They have free markets (insofar as any nation does). The problem (as you mention) is that they also have excessively high taxes. And here the problem is (awkward to say it!) democracy: the citizens will vote out any government that threatens its benefits."

And what a great point it is. So in 100 years people will look back at those that promised easy retirements and 35 hour work weeks as the destroyers of a large part of Western society. Democracy and Socialism are a dangerous mix.

I wrote about relativity a while ago. Relative to Communism and Totalitarianism, Democracy/Capitalism looks frikken genius. Parecon is the best alternative we've seen and it has been labeled Socialism 2.0. It boggles my mind. These systems are really brilliantly thought out, nobody would say that Marx was intellectually challenged but... the thought is infected with utopian idealism. What a waste that these great thinkers build an elaborate framework of ideas on a faulty foundation. Maybe that's why I like science, open source and alternative media. There is no tolerance for weak foundations.


Ubiquitous Servers

My random thought from the last post got me thinking; PCs are now ridiculously inexpensive relative to their cost only a few years ago but... they're still big and noisy. "Always on" is a phrase used to describe broadband almost as frequently as terms like "high-speed". Most people that hear about IBM servers in ads think servers are entirely different beasts than their humble home PCs but that's not the case. Servers just run different software and are more reliable they're also always on.

So who cares? A lot of people leave on their home PCs all the time anyway. Well with a little magical techno-tomfoolery that PC could become a web server(think blog), email server and web-calendar, an in home music server, wireless access point, home security device(webcam), robotic pet feeding device, podcast server, firewall, and home entertainment server with DVD (plugged into a HDTV). Right now you need a fairly strong technical background to get something like this up and running (I'm going to try at my new house in about a month) but it's not impossible by any stretch.

When someone puts this all in a little box that runs quietly and costs less than a couple hundred dollars AND is really easy to setup and configure, crazy things will begin to happen. The major issue right now is that a static IP costs a bit more money than the typical broadband connections but IPV6 and DynDNS should solve that problem.

Right now a lot of companies are releasing crippled open source versions of their premium products to gain publicity but there is a huge risk that the community will fork the project and add improvements available in the commercial versions. It would be legal too. Software is becomming a commodity so businesses are selling new features and services to make a living in the Open Source software industry. I get the feeling that ubiquitous broadband, cheap storage and reliable distributed networks (bittorrent) are squashing even those niches. Maybe offsite backup for these increasingly complex home servers will be the last bastion of profitable IT in a few years. Then that'll go away when someone invents encrypted distributed file systems running in a RAID 1+ array so all of your close family and friends can participate in the offsite backup of your family photos and other data.

Then... all of us techies will be forced to come out of our caves and solve problems that really need solving like Open Source/Creative Commons licensed education for developing countries. I believe in accelerating change and I think things will be much different, mainly for the better in five years.

Some relevant links:Epiacenter


Municipal Wifi - random thoughts

I don't have time write the 8 page article I'd like to so here's a brain dump that I'll expand on when I find a minute...

There are heated debates surrounding the Philidelphia Wifi project, big government vs. free markets.

I like to think that the Internet is analogous to the early Interstate Highway system. Dwight Eisenhower and South Korea, peas in a pod.

How did Korea get to where it is? A recent study on Korea’s broadband leadership conducted by Britain’s Brunel University cited “pricing, infrastructure, demographics, geography, deregulation and clear user benefits”


"Chin says government policies aimed at improving the country’s telecom infrastructure and fast-paced telecom deregulation in the ’90s helped facilitate the journey. Some factors, however, are unique to Korea or Asia. The Brunel study cited the fact that 65 percent of Koreans live in clusters of high-rise apartment buildings, which makes it easier to roll out ultrafast VDSL broadband."

Random idea:
There are hundreds of versions of the Open Source Linux operating system. They are all designed to work with all sorts of hardware and so have complicated systems in place to detect and configure anything thrown at it with success is of varying degrees. My idea - create a linux distribution designed to work with a given set of hardware (mini-itx) which would act as a home router, firewall, Windows compatible file server, wireless access point and optionally as an email/web server. Configuration information would be stored on a cheap USB memory stick (check that, 2 USB memory sticks in a RAID 1 array). It would boot from a liveCD not the harddrive. Upgrades would be provieded in the form of new bootable CDs (ISOs) which would be backwards compatible with the information on the USB stick. The external HDD would be optional as all config data would be on the usb memory stick.


More on the weird hobby...

Our simulator now has support for multiple cars and tracks. This stunt track was donated by a friend of a developer which we'll use to test the suspension and physics. It's a bit bumpy in places so I raised the suspension to prevent it from bottoming out. I'm fiddling around with engine friction values to try to eek out some more realism before we release it to the public. Modelling a differential is a horrifically difficult task which I'm leaving to others. It's tricky, the car rolls over and crashes realistically but if the tire model, suspension or drivetrain are a little bit off it makes driving very difficult.


Make Love Not War

"...scientists considered developing a chemical weapon with aphrodisiac qualities that would make enemy soldiers hopelessly, physically attractive to one another so as to paralyze their ranks and destroy morale. The plan was unearthed by a government watchdog group that said it was just the tip of the iceberg of covert chemical and biological programs in the U.S military." Link

It's good to know there are a few romantics left at the pentagon.



There are a lot of technologies that are hyped up that never materialize. Flying cars, HAL 9000, etc. and we're now hyping new things like nano-technology, stem cells, transhumanism and HAL 2035. The technological singularity is "a predicted point in the development of a civilization at which technological progress accelerates beyond the ability of present-day humans to fully comprehend or predict." We create better computers which lead to advances in medical imaging, airplane design, materials science etc. The argument is that the synergy is exponential, these improvements bounce around inside the realm of technology in a sort of chain reaction. The computer designed materials are used to make better microprocessors and the loop grows stronger. This is known as the "Law of Accelerating Returns".

The trickle down theory of economics asserts that the wealthy are better able to create progress and therefore lower taxes on them will benefit all members of society in the long run. The new initiative to introduce $100 laptops in 3rd world countries has similar roots; the theory being that sufficient number of smart people connected to the Internet are better able to create progress than an overfunded minority. India has one billion citizens 70% of which live in villages. 700 million people with no access to the information on the Internet. Brilliant minds languishing on small farms, minds that could develop cures for diseases, create new art or maybe even design the elusive flying car... The chart is there as an example of the untapped potential that's about to be unleashed upon the world.

"The whole class of a village school has traveled to this city stadium by bus for a great adventure - the chance to see for the first time something most of us already take for granted - a computer. The boys were jumping up and down and shrieking with excitement, despite the blazing sunshine. Their clothing was worn, many were barefoot."

I think the big overlooked part of the singularity is the awareness that as soon as computers become a little more affordable they'll flood into those villages and hoe wielding would-be Einsteins will take note. $5 billion spent on AIDS research is a commendable expenditure. $5 billion spent on connecting millions of minds to the internet and the resultant potential benefits to open source software and it's effects on productivity are possibly even more likely to lead to advances that cure AIDS.

Open source software will be huge not because it is inexpensive but because it favors open standards. Think railways with different track gauges. IT careers consist mainly of fixing problems due to poorly designed software and learning new and varied systems because of the lack of standards. Open source is changing that hence the recent decline in IT salaries. It's ironic that IT as a profession has a cloudy future not because things change but because they're becoming standardized. That standardization allows the development of automation. Proprietary de-facto standards(Windows/MS Office) aren't going to fly in developing countries as evidenced by the use of Linux on the $100 laptop. 2010 could be interesting.


More on the Simulator

Here's the first image from our simulator that shows the real potential of the graphics engine. The texture for the road isn't very high quality but the lighting on the parking garage (which you can park in) is all done in real time which is usually avoided because it requires a fast computer.

If you focus on the pillars holding up the garage you can see the shadows being cast and how the interior supports are completely shadowed while the outermost pillars are not. The way this usually works is by choosing a time of day and just painting the shadows on the parking stucture which is much easier for the computer. The problem with that technique is that when the sun sets you have the same shadows on the buildings as you did at 2PM.

The benefit of not taking shortcuts is that a) we don't have to hand paint shadows onto everything and b) we can move the sun across the sky easily to simulate atmospheric effects and even create a race that transitions from day to night. The first real release of the simulator is probably less than a month away, I'm going to document the progress here as a sort of time capsule for future reference.


Sunrise in a Computer

So I've been a little obsessed with the driving simulator lately. We got the first track working today, just some dirt hills but it's a major step. You can move the sun across the sky and the hills cast shadows on themselves and on the car. In this picture the sun is very near the horizon which is why it's dark and why you can see the shadow from the wheel rims next to the car. I'm having a guy build my dream car, the Porsche 917 so I can put it in the game and drive around a virtual version.

I've been wrong about a lot of things in the past but I think this driving game has a lot of potential. The best case scenario is as follows. Because it's free, our simulator is downloaded by countless car nuts over the Internet (we're somewhere around 5,000 downloads right now). People begin to understand the benefits of Open Source software because our game is something tangible unlike the less than mainstream Linux or Apache.

My deep seated love for Open Source thinking is based, oddly enough, on the belief that it is good for capitalism. Yes, if our simulator is popular it will probably prevent development of commercial simulators. Then again, all of those smart people that have been re-inventing the wheel, no pun, for the last 15 years can move on to projects that push the envelope in areas neglected by open source developers.

Robots and open source are both driving automation. Automation leads to efficiency which leads to a growing wealth divide but more importantly to more average wealth. Of course with more wealth you have more tax revenue which if redistributed correctly (healthcare?) leads to a higher standard of living for the median citizen.


Chuck Wood - Lumberjack

Some guy scanned a chainsaw manual and uploaded it to his website. The software allows captions to be added which I couldn't resist... Check out my version here.